More than 50,000 people protested a disputed railway project in southwestern Germany on Friday, a day after scores of demonstrators were injured when police broke up a rally there.
A spokesman for the organizers, Matthias von Hermann, said more than 100,000 people attended the rally in Stuttgart, protesting the 4.1 billion euro (US$5.5 billion) railway project, which foresees moving the city’s station underground.
“This is the biggest protest against the planned construction we ever had,” he said.
However, police spokesman Stefan Keilbach said about 50,000 people were marching through downtown Stuttgart — a wealthy city of 600,000 inhabitants. There were no clashes or arrests, he said.
On Thursday, about 1,000 police officers used water cannons and pepper spray to break up a rally there, leaving 130 people injured, 16 of whom had to be hospitalized, and 26 demonstrators were temporarily detained, police said.
The eruption of violence shocked the country and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the large number of injuries “saddening,” her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
Merkel strongly endorses the right to peaceful protests, but said the project has been democratically approved and must go forward, he added. Merkel said earlier this week its completion is now a question of credibility for Germany as a whole.
Protesters condemned Thursday’s violence, carrying banners saying “Shame on You” and calling for Baden-Wurttemburg -Minister-President Stefan Mappus’ resignation.
One protester told German news agency DAPD she had not participated in a demonstration for at least 20 years but that it’s now time for citizens to change the way politics works.
The recent protests, which have drawn people of all ages and social levels, threaten to halt the construction of Stuttgart 21, which is one of the country’s major infrastructure projects.
Proponents of the plan to move the station underground say the freed-up space in the city’s crowded center can be used for new apartments and business buildings, and new tracks for faster connections will improve southern Germany’s railway network.
However, critics — including several environment groups and The Greens party — say new cost overruns are likely, possibly putting the final price tag up to 10 billion euros, making riding German trains more expensive but not significantly faster.
The Social Democratic Party, the main opposition party, has called for a referendum to decide on the future of Stuttgart 21.
The governing Christian Democrat Union (CDU) rejects that idea — but the upcoming election in Baden-Wurttemberg state, the area around Stuttgart, is likely to turn into a referendum on the matter.
The latest polls indicated Merkel’s party could lose its majority in the state for the first time in decades.